There’s a certain size and scale that one gets used to at the Fringe. True, there are a few notable exceptions - the Assembly Hall, the EICC, the Pleasance Grand - but, more often than not, you can expect to be sat with maybe ten other people in a thrown-together space that smells a little of damp and is probably usually used to store the very chairs you’re sat on.
Sleepless have made a worthy attempt at matching the grandeur of their surroundings
I mention this because the surprise and elation I experienced stepping into this extraordinary venue - the cavernous chapel of St Cuthbert’s - was something I would get used to over the next ninety minutes. Sleepless Theatre have been ambitious in their scope but they have delivered. From the get-go, our atmospheric surroundings, illuminated dramatically with just a few spotlights and handheld torches, is matched wonderfully with the twisty-turny nature of Bulgakov’s surreal plot. Scenes take place from every angle meaning you’re always moving around the space (so no big bags please, they’ll only get in the way), enhancing the off-kilter nature of the story. And when Sleepless say ‘immersive’, they mean it, so expect to be swept up as the players pass and make you part of the action.
Visually, Sleepless have made a worthy attempt at matching the grandeur of their surroundings. For a company bound to a low-tech approach, they still manage moments of impressive spectacle, Professor Woland’s entrance at the end of the ball being a particular highlight, as is the ongoing presence of the monstrous cat, Behemoth. Performances from the young cast are both physical and beautiful and the music of the production, written and performed by Matt Pope, is well executed.
There are a few teething problems - the acoustics of the church and the pell-mell placement of the watching mean that some dialogue can be harder to catch if delivered away from the audience - but where this show falls a little short, it’s only because it reaches so high. It would be a huge shame should The Master and Margarita remain hidden away in the dark of the Princes Street Gardens so I encourage you - pack light, grab a ticket and throw yourself in for thrilling and haunting Fringe experience.